Corey Abbott

In The Crease

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Northwest Division Preview

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Northwest Division Preview

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

Roster Movement

Vancouver kept most of their team intact after losing in the Stanley Cup finals to Boston this past spring. They re-signed defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Sami Salo, as well utility forwards Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre.

However, they weren't able to come to terms with 50-point scorer Christian Ehrhoff, whom they traded to the New York Islanders. Ehrhoff turned down the Islanders' offer and ended up in Buffalo, where he signed a long-term contract. The Canucks also parted ways with Tanner Glass, Raffi Torres and Alexandre Bolduc, while Jeff Tambellini and Sergei Shirokov inked deals with teams in Europe.

Vancouver signed free agent forward Marco Sturm, who can move up and down the lineup where needed, and extended invites to Owen Nolan and Todd Fedoruk to attend training camp on a tryout basis. They also added Alexander Sulzer for depth on the blueline.

Projected Top Two Lines

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Alex Burrows
Christopher Higgins - Ryan Kesler - Mikael Samuelsson

Battle for Jobs

The Canucks' second unit will largely depend on who is healthy when training camp ends. Kesler underwent hip surgery far into the summer and he may not be available for the start of the year, which could leave Manny Malhotra or Lapierre as possible replacements.

Samuelsson had a procedure to repair his adductor tendon and a sports hernia during the playoffs and his status for camp is uncertain as well. Finally, Mason Raymond is expected to be out until early-mid November after he suffered a vertebrae compression fracture in the finals against the Bruins. Sturm and Jannik Hansen might be the first players in line for increased ice time as a result.
On defense, Keith Ballard will look to rebound in 2011-12 and get out of the doghouse. He'll compete with Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts for a bottom-pairing spot at training camp.

Key Injuries

As discussed above, the status of Kesler, Samuelsson and Raymond is concerning for Vancouver heading into training camp because the three of them would form the club's second line if they were all healthy.

Player to Watch

Marco Sturm, like the majority of the Canucks, has great speed and can produce if given the chance. It wouldn't be surprising if he saw action on a number of the lines this season, which could include time with the talented Sedin twins. Monitor his position on the depth chart and take advantage of it when the time comes.

CALGARY FLAMES

Roster Movement

The Flames feel positive about their chances going into the 2011-12 campaign, but their off-season had a rocky start when they were forced to move an excellent prospect in Tim Erixon to the New York Rangers. Calgary was unable to sign their former first-round pick and he was set to go back into the 2011 draft class. Rather than lose him for nothing the Flames moved him for Roman Horak and a pair of second-round selections.

The club made another trade during the draft proceedings when they sent Robyn Regehr and Ales Kotalik to Buffalo in exchange for Chris Butler and Paul Byron. The Flames also acquired enforcer Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond from New Jersey in July for some additional toughness and they inked blueliner Scott Hannan to a one-year deal recently.

Fredrik Modin retired from hockey and the Flames chose not to bring back rearguards Steve Staois and Adam Pardy.

Projected Top Two Lines

Alex Tanguay - Daymond Langkow - Jarome Iginla
David Moss - Olli Jokinen - Curtis Glencross

Battle for Jobs

The Flames change their centers so often that the players probably need a roadmap to discern who they are playing with on a night-to-night basis. Last year injuries played a key role in the constant swapping, but the first-line pivot position has been passed through the roster for a while now. Langkow, Jokinen, Moss, Brendan Morrison, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Stajan have played there before and the shuffle will likely continue this year.

Training camp should also give young players like Byron and Lance Bouma a shot at earning a spot on the opening day lineup.

Key Injuries

Morrison is considered questionable for the beginning of the 2011-12 campaign after undergoing knee surgery in April.

Player to Watch

Paul Byron is an intriguing player because he has offensive upside and can play a solid two-way game. He skated in only eight games with Buffalo last season on a call-up from the minors. It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that he'll begin the year in the AHL, but the Flames expect him to compete for a job at training camp.

COLORADO AVALANCHE

Roster Movement

The Avalanche attempted to fortify their defensive efforts this off-season. In 2011-12, Colorado will introduce a new goalie tandem with Semyon Varlamov as their starter and Jean-Sebastien Giguere as their backup. Varlamov was acquired from Washington for a first and a second round draft pick, while Giguere was brought in as a free agent. They are both an improvement over Brian Elliott and Peter Budaj, but their injury issues are a concern. Colorado also signed Jan Hejda and Shane O'Brien to help with their defensive zone coverage.

Newcomers Chuck Kobasew and Joakim Lindstrom should present the Avalanche with more options at forward.

Colorado will miss the potential that Tomas Fleischmann brought to the table, but a healthy Peter Mueller should make up for that production. They also traded John-Michael Liles to Toronto before the draft and veteran defender Adam Foote is retired.

Projected Top Two Lines

Gabriel Landeskog - Paul Stastny - David Jones
Peter Mueller - Matt Duchene - Milan Hejduk

Battle for Jobs

The teams' 2011 second overall pick, Gabriel Landeskog, is expected to make Colorado's roster out of camp and play top-six minutes this season. The Avalanche may have another prospect ready to break into the NHL this year: defenseman Stefan Elliott. Aside from Erik Johnson, their defense corps lacks offensive punch and Elliott is a future power-play quarterback.

Key Injuries

The Avalanche believe Mueller will be ready for training camp, but concussions are tricky to gauge and he did miss the entire 2010-11 season.

Player to Watch

Landeskog was viewed as a lock to be on Colorado's roster in 2011-12 after being drafted. He has tremendous value as a keeper and should enjoy a strong rookie season. But Semyon Varlamov's situation is much more interesting to fantasy owners. He is the undisputed number one guy now, but he'll have to overcome his injury problem and prove he can steal games to be considered a viable option.

MINNESOTA WILD

Roster Movement

Minnesota moved key contributors Martin Havlat, who led the team in goals and finished tied for second in points last season, and Brent Burns, who led the defense corps in scoring, to San Jose in two separate trades in the off-season. Havlat was shipped out for Dany Heatley, while Burns was dealt for Devin Setoguchi, Charlie Coyle and a first-round pick. Darroll Powe was also acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Wild dipped into the free agent market as well when they signed former Tampa Bay defenseman Mike Lundin.

Jose Theodore was permitted to sign with Florida as a free agent, so Josh Harding will resume his role as Niklas Backstrom's backup this season. Minnesota also let go of Antti Miettinen, Andrew Brunette, John Madden and Chuck Kobasew. Defenseman Cam Barker was bought out after failing to catch on with the organization.

Projected Top Two Lines

Pierre-Marc Bouchard - Mikko Koivu - Dany Heatley
Guillaume Latendresse - Matt Cullen - Devin Setoguchi

Battle for Jobs

Kyle Brodziak saw time on the second line last season and he may get a chance to play there again. Setoguchi and Bouchard are expected to be tried out on the top line with Heatley and Koivu during training camp and whoever displays more chemistry with the team's top two guns will earn the position.

Colton Gillies is projected to earn a bottom-six forward spot on the roster this campaign following a successful year in the AHL with Houston.

Key Injuries

Nick Schultz may not be ready for the start of training camp due to a concussion.

Player to Watch

Pierre-Marc Bouchard returned to Minnesota's lineup last year following a concussion and his playmaking skills will likely be required if the team wants to get the best out of Heatley. If they can develop chemistry then it would greatly benefit the Wild power play as well.

EDMONTON OILERS

Roster Movement

The Edmonton Oilers added veterans and enforcers to help groom their developing talent during this off-season. Ryan Smyth is back with the team after being traded from Los Angeles for Colin Fraser, and Eric Belanger was signed to a three-year deal via free agency. In the muscle department, the Oilers obtained Ben Eager, Andy Sutton and Darcy Hordichuk.

Edmonton also took a low risk chance on blueliner Cam Barker by signing him to a one-year/$2.25 million contract following his buyout from Minnesota.
The Oilers parted ways with Sheldon Souray, Andrew Cogliano, Kurtis Foster, Jim Vandermeer, Jean-Francois Jacques, Zack Stortini and Steve MacIntyre.

Projected Top Two Lines

Taylor Hall - Shawn Horcoff - Jordan Eberle
Ryan Smyth - Eric Belanger - Ales Hemsky

Battle for Jobs

Sam Gagner centered the top line between Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle last season and he may get the opportunity to do so again. Magnus Paajarvi has the potential to move up to the second line as well.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will get a chance to participate in his first NHL training camp after being the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. However, another season in junior wouldn't be at all surprising considering the youth that already exists on the roster and the Oilers' added depth at center.

In goal, Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin are expected to share starts until a number one goalie emerges. Dubnyk outperformed Khabibulin a year ago and should be viewed as the team's starter going into camp.

Key Injuries

Horcoff, Hall and Gagner ended the 2010-11 season on the injured list, but they should all be ready for training camp.

Player to Watch

The Oilers are loaded with keeper league talent, but Taylor Hall should garner the most attention at this time. He started off slowly in his rookie campaign, but his speed and scoring ability shined through as the year progressed. Look for Hall to continue his development in 2011-12.




Corey Abbott is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him Twitter @CoreAbbott.
Email :Corey Abbott



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